CHICAGO — Construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago took a major step forward Thursday with a city commission's decision to sign off on the project after hours of testimony from both supporters and opponents of the project.
The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved a proposal to build former President Barack Obama's center in Jackson Park on the city's South Side. The action came over protests from opponents who want an agreement that local residents will benefit from the $500 million project.
"Community residents have no ownership, no say-so, no input," said Devondrick Jeffers. "We know this is a huge investment in the community, but it's not truly an investment if residents don't benefit from this as well."
However, Obama Presidential Center supporters cheered the plans for the presidential center, saying it would bring job opportunities to the area and foster economic development.
Obama Foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt told the commission former president and Michelle Obama pushed planners not to limit their imagination on the possibilities for the community that would surround the center.
"Our vision is that the center is a public campus integrated into the park as a part of it and not apart from it," Nesbitt said. "When families and young people come to our campus, we hope to have them inspired to see that they have the power to change the things in their lives and the communities they live in."
Nesbitt claimed 20 percent of the jobs at the center are reserved for residents who live in lower-income neighborhoods and contractors hired to build the center are mainly African-American-owned firms.
Officials want to break ground on the center this year, with the opening slated for 2021.
The plan for the center still has other hurdles to clear, including City Council approval.
The city also must contend with a lawsuit filed this week by a non-profit group trying to block the project on the grounds it is not a true presidential library. The group takes that stance because the center will only have a digital archive of documents and not the documents themselves.